Reflections on the Parzival Youth Conference

Reflections on the Parzival Youth Conference

06 September 2023 746 views

by Lily Wojciechowski

Reflections on the Parzival Youth Conference 2023

The first thing I noticed was the air. Immediately a heat I'd never experienced before Saran wrapped my skin and lungs, enveloping me in its humid atmosphere.

My friend and I stood clueless in Tbilisi, which even at 6 a.m. was already baking everyone inside its oven of a city. Kind men with missing fingers, chain-smoking in the parking lot enthusiastically tried to help us find where we needed to go even with the crater-sized language barrier. After an hour, we surrendered and got into a taxi which was blissfully cooler. The smell of foreign bleach wafted out of the taxi’s open windows as we bulleted up the mountainside. The tasseled cross hanging from the rearview mirror swung wildly, blessing our ride.

Georgia has many dogs and an overpopulation of strays. They’re mostly rugged and charming, often midsize and marginally more sentient than your average butter-yellow, loose-skinned labrador. As the week went on I found that some walk up to you curious and open, while others skirt around you bellowing their best, but no matter where you are, they will find you, either roaming in packs or all on their own. Many spend their evenings socializing and howling with the coyotes all throughout the forests. Their constant presence is simultaneously whimsical and slightly haunting. I notice them on our drive, even in the most distant of fields, black and silhouetted like flop-eared totems against the golden grass.

The cows are seemingly just as free. Our driver pulled aside multiple times to let them cross the road like school children, bobbing their wise heads rhythmically with each step. As we drove I saw a woman with a large branch exasperatedly shooing a herd out of the gas station parking lot, loitering like a group of petulant bovine teenagers.

Once we arrived in Matsevani we were greeted by two puppies with rounded milk-blue stomachs and soft cream-cap fur, two cloud moths figure-eighting around their heads as they guided us to the door of the sun-baked Parzival building. We were welcomed in by new names and faces whilst the steam of the best black coffee I've ever had and the back-of-the-tongue clicks and rolling r’s of the Georgian language swirled around us.

We took our coffees out back and sat at the little table and benches they had made themselves, underneath the shade of a once red tarp slowly scorching to a submissive peach. Parzivalians materialized out of the fields and woods at random. All smiling and sweating and busy, stopping to introduce themselves. There was a beehive-ish way to their work. I envisioned imaginary dotted lines following behind them in loops as they ran back and forth with boards and shovels and a Grim Reaper-esque weedwhacker. The Parzival School is like their favorite pair of work boots that will become perfectly broken in with some more time and wear, I have no doubts about this.

A day before the conference began, the group drove us to a restaurant down the street. Women with deep purple lipstick perched on the stoop like crows. Someone placed our enormous order and the women began preparing our feast.

Plates of tomatoes and potatoes and khachapuri (a hot flatbread filled with melted sour cheese) came out in droves. We spooned sour red plum sauce out of glassware and picked at small bowls of what looked like strings of pickled green pearls. Then the women came in carrying round silver trays that balanced plates, and plates of khinkali, which is a soup dumpling filled with meat. The dough is thick and slightly gummy and the filling is savory and beyond addictive. You flip them over, douse them with pepper, and cut a small hole with your teeth to sip out the piping hot broth. The group I was sitting next to at this dinner had never eaten anything like this so we all kept looking at each other, silently chewing with eyes wide in wonder, or taking a bite and theatrically slumping into our chairs to communicate to each other, "This is so unbelievably good!"

As we fattened like kings, a few of the men of Parzival asked if they could sing a song in Georgian in exchange for other people singing songs in their language. We all thought it was a great idea and set down our forks. These men proceeded to sing the most beautiful song I've ever heard in person. Perhaps it was less about the song and more about their voices. The way their eerie and complex harmonies filled the entirety of the empty dining room. Lilting and dipping up and down like boats on dark water. Some had closed eyes as they sang, heads tilted down, pulling the song out from somewhere deep inside. Others sang looking upwards to the distance with subtle sways of the head, seeing images of the song on the ceiling. I'd never heard anything like this in my life, and I found myself leaning into the melody like a cat into a warm leg.

Needless to say, they set the musical bar quite high. The rest of us sang regardless and it was a wonderful time, sharing and swapping songs, harmonizing la la's and ooo's where we didn't know the words. At one point I stepped into the parking lot to listen and it sounded like a practiced choir. This is my most beloved memory of my short time in Georgia, and I know I am not alone in this.

The buses harboring the rest of the conference attendees arrived the next morning, and that night commenced the beginning of the lectures, which were held in a wooded area set up with hammocks and chairs. Branches and leaves interlocked above us to make a ceiling.

I'm still grappling with the topics covered within the lectures, as an hour or two to touch on subjects such as social threefolding, is like taking a jog through the Louvre. It came clear to me as the week continued that these topics are meant to be continuously explored with each other.

Out of the workshops held, I chose "From Individual to Collective Change."

We met at a pavilion erected by the Parzival crew in the forest, little origami cranes hung from the wooden beams, swinging back and forth with the breeze, while our group leaders led us through mazes of conversations and games. As the week progressed, I couldn't help but take note of how butterflies continually landed on the raspberry-red hearts dyed into the blonde buzzcut of a young boy in my group. I'm sure they thought he was some ornate walking flower arrangement. There would be two to three on his head at a time, methodically parting and shutting their wings as we all discussed the ins and outs of freedom and how to find doors where we thought there was only a wall.

The conference was a door. To show up in a drastically different country on the other side of the world and feel completely at home is also a door. I believe that the Parzival crew as well as the International Youth Section as a whole are master door-finders. I'm extremely grateful that they opened so many for us to file through from all over the world, with a firepit glowing hot at the ready for us to circle around and sing late into the night.

Lily Wojciechowski